Oak Park Kitchen Designer Denise Hauser Brings Foster Mom’s Vision to Life
Over the past decade, Shari Murphy has been a foster mom to about 25 children.
So when the Hinsdale Cooks! Kitchen Walk in Hinsdale turned its spotlight on her home, it was only fitting that it fell on Mother’s Day.
The distinguishing elements of the family’s newly renovated kitchen revolved around her vision to create a child-friendly yet elegant space that helped little hands and feet navigate unfamiliar territory.
Murphy credited Oak Park-based kitchen designer Denise Hauser with creating just such a space.
“Denise was wonderful in the way she truly listened to us,” she said. “She was able to anticipate our family's unique needs and design a kitchen that efficiently worked for us—down to the last detail.”
Hauser refers to Murphy’s passionate care for foster children as “an inspiration.”
“I was honored to be a part of a space that served such a special cause,” Hauser said. “It was an overwhelming feeling to be part of something that touches so many lives in such a meaningful way.”
Murphy and her husband, Tom, feel a calling to do what they can for children whose own families are enduring a stress of one kind or another.
The couple became licensed foster parents when their own daughters, 18-year-old twins Colleen and Kerry, were in kindergarten. From newborn infants to 10-year-olds, children—usually one at a time though at times two or three siblings—have stayed as briefly as one day and as long as 18 months in the Murphy home.
“It sounds trite but when you have a happy family, it’s such a blessing,” said Murphy. “We felt like our greatest gift was our family. Including someone in our family was a way that we could reach out to children who didn’t have the same benefits our children have.”
The large, beautiful home was built in 1911 and possesses a formal estate style. Because of that grand feel, said Hauser, the decision was made to adopt a warm "Old English estate" aesthetic for the kitchen.
The layout was modernized to provide a large 10-foot gathering island in the middle of the space, which was medium alder wood and was topped by indestructible leathered antique brown granite.
Hauser’s attention to detail permeates the work. One example, said Murphy, is that the designer placed a distressed alder wood under the island top, instead of painted cabinets, because it better absorbs wear and tear when children sit around it and kick their feet, the cabinets there won’t smudge or chip.
Re-making the space with care was especially important on an emotional level, said Murphy, because “kitchens often evoke strong memories for children, and many of our foster children have special emotional associations to foods.”
The kitchen, considered a bit small for the estate-size home, was opened up to an adjacent breakfast room, creating one large open kitchen. That layout promoted traffic to flow easily from the kitchen to the quaint sun-drenched breakfast room where the family gathers daily at the large breakfast table.
The original, dark, U-shaped kitchen, with its intense heavy cabinetry, had been closed off to the breakfast room. Hauser nixed that in favor of freestanding armoire type cabinetry, including a large black distressed armoire that masked the 48-inch refrigerator, an alder serving piece with a surprising blue clay tile countertop, and an orange red secretary that housed the home’s office and organizational items.
For easy warming and serving of food, Hauser installed a unique 24-inch cook-top on the end of the island. The original windows and soffit above the sink were replaced with windows to the ceiling, producing natural light even as it mimicked the grand architectural feel that fit with the rest of the home.
An important feature was a small bed-and-breakfast fireplace designed to create an ambient effect for the family environment. Its backdrop, painterly hand-painted clay tile, infused the family warmth that Shari sought to communicate to her foster children.
Trumeau Design and Decor of Hinsdale and The English Garden Flower Shop in Clarendon Hills contributed the tablescapes and floral arrangements for the Murphy home’s spot in the House Walk.
Although the Murphys have provided traditional and specialized (emergency medical) foster care placements in the past, recently they have served children through a program called Safe Families for Children (SFFC).
SFFC helps prevent child abuse and neglect and keeps families intact by providing safe and loving homes for children while their parents deal with temporary crises.
“Becoming a host family with Safe Families for Children is the ideal volunteer experience for a young family,” Murphy said. “Host families choose what ages and length of placement will work best for them and the decision to accept each child is made on a case-by-case basis.”